WME | IMG has acquired the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The sports and entertainment giant has led a takeover group which includes Silver Lake Partners, which helped fund WME's acquisition of IMG in 2014 and will act with KKR as strategic investors, as well as MSD Capital and MSD Partners, which will provide equity financing. WME | IMG will also act as the UFC's operating partner as it works to continue the series' growth around the world.
The deal is widely reported to be worth US$4 billion.
“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes,” said WME | IMG co-chief executives Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell. “It’s been exciting to watch the organisation’s incredible growth over the last decade under the leadership of the Fertitta brothers, Dana White and their dedicated team. We’re now committed to pursuing new opportunities for UFC and its talented athletes to ensure the sport’s continued growth and success on a global scale.”
White, the UFC president who had earlier confirmed its sale in interviews with ESPN and The Associated Press (AP), added: “No other sport compares to UFC.Our goal has always been to put on the biggest and the best fights for our fans, and to make this the biggest sport in the world. I’m looking forward to working with WME | IMG to continue to take this sport to the next level.”
White will stay on as president but chairman and chief executive Lorenzo Fertita, who bought the UFC with brother Frank for just US$2 million in 2001 and held an 80 per cent stake through the Zuffa company, is to step down. White, who had held a nine per cent stake in the organisation, and the Fertitas will remain minority shareholders.
Lorenzo Fertita said: "We’re confident that the new ownership team of WME | IMG, with whom we’ve built a strong relationship over the last several years, is committed to accelerating UFC’s global growth. Most importantly, our new owners share the same vision and passion for this organisation and its athletes."
With White acting as the public face of the UFC, the Fertitas helped transform the promotion from the point of oblivion become one of the fastest-growing sporting properties in the world. Earlier this year, the state of New York withdrew a long-existing ban, one of the final impediments to the sport's mainstream success in the US, while events have been held in an increasing number of international markets in recent years.
Reports by ESPN earlier in the year, denied at the time, had indicated that representatives of Zuffa were in talks with a range of bidders for the UFC as well as WME | IMG, including the Dalian Wanda Group, China Media Capital and private-equity firm Blackstone Group.
Originally founded in 1993, UFC now has offices in London, Toronto, Sao Paulo and Singapore, as well as its global base in Las Vegas, and has held events in 19 countries around the world.